Gulf Coast businesses affected by the red tide outbreak can apply for emergency bridge loans.
Red tide has not only entered canals, coves and bays along the Gulf Coast — it’s also entered the national conversation, much to the detriment of Florida businesses that derive much of their revenue from tourism, fishing and other aquatic activities.
The images of dead fish clogging up waterways by the thousands aren’t a good look, especially during the height of summer when tourism already tends to be sluggish. Dolphins, sea turtles and manatees have also been hit hard by red tide, which is caused by algae blooms and occurs somewhat regularly in Florida — but the 2018 version is the worst in more than a decade and has led to a perception in the national media that it’s not safe to visit Florida’s Gulf Coast communities.
Those of us who live here know that there’s much more to the Gulf Coast than beaches and fishing. But perception matters. A lot. It’s hard to argue with the devastating photo of a dead whale shark, felled by red tide, that washed up on a Sanibel Island beach.
The red tide threat to coastal businesses is very much real, and so Gov. Rick Scott last week declared a state of emergency for Charlotte, Collier, Hillsborough, Lee, Manatee, Pinellas and Sarasota counties. Companies that have been negatively affected by the red tide bloom in those counties could be eligible for the state’s small business emergency bridge loan program, which provides short-term, interest-free loans of up to $50,000.
According to a press release put out by Pinellas County Economic Development, eligible businesses must demonstrate economic injury or physical damage as a result of the red tide or the perception of red tide; however, loan proceeds are to be used only to maintain or restart the business, not pay off existing debts. Interest will be forgiven if the loan is repaid within 180 days.
Emergency bridge loan applications are being accepted until Oct. 12. For more information about eligibility and how to apply, visit http://www.floridadisasterloan.org.